Letting the Salmon Runby Editors
Boston Globe, June 7, 2000
The Clinton administration is on the verge of deciding whether to reopen a critical portion of the Snake River in Washington by destroying portions of four dams, a move essential to restoration of sadly dwindling salmon in the region. Demolition makes environmental, economic, and cultural sense and should be undertaken as quickly as possible.
Built in the 1960s and '70s, the dams were designed primarily to facilitate barge and ship traffic to Idaho for handling grain and lumber. They generate about 4 percent of the region's electricity. But, despite fish ladders and other programs to protect salmon runs, they have resulted in a sharp falloff in the number of fish spawning in the Snake Rive basin, including the virtual extinction of coho salmon.
Reopening the dams would restore about 5,500 miles of upriver tributaries, areas dominated by wilderness tracts that are ideal for spawning that has been sharply diminished. Among those young fish that do develop, the trip to open ocean involves heavy casualties as they pass the four dams involved in this decision, plus four larger dams on the Columbia River, to which the Snake is a tributary.
Advocates of reopening the dams say that the four Columbia River dams represent an acceptable tradeoff between their economic value for generating electricity and preservation of fish stocks, and they are not calling for their removal. Enough salmon get through fish ladders on the Columbia to sustain salmon at levels that are commercially important for native American tribal rights and for recreational fishing.
The move is resisted by some who are concerned that the four dams would set a precedent for a much more massive reopening of rivers. But these four are at critical locations and have cost about $200 million annually in unsuccessful countermeasures, like the tanker shipment of fish around the dams. Other dams in the Columbia-Snake basin are more important economically and deserve protection.
The administration should proceed with a removal program before more salmon species are irretrievably lost.
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